Welcome to the Round 23 AFL Preview. We now know who the eight finals teams are for certain, but there is still plenty of water to pass under the bridge in terms of double chances and home ground advantages. Four points separate first from seventh, proving just how open positions are for the final round. The top four all sit on 64 points, one game clear of GWS in fifth who possess a threatening percentage of 142.5%. Hawthorn’s loss to West Coast has opened the scenario further, meaning all current top four clubs need to win to ensure they hold their current second chance opportunities. While all games involving top eight sides are important, the Adelaide vs West Coast and North Melbourne vs GWS clashes are the most critical. Wins to West Coast and GWS in these encounters have the potential to cause mass change in the top four and create extra pressure on Sydney, Geelong and Hawthorn to win their respective games.
Western Bulldogs -18.5 Line @ $1.92
ADELAIDE ($1.27) VS WEST COAST ($3.90)
AT ADELAIDE OVAL, FRIDAY 26/08, 20:10
Line: Crows -25.5, Eagles +25.5
Adelaide are one of the form teams in the competition and are superbly set for a top two finish, but were given an unneeded fright against Port Adelaide in the Showdown. The Crows were given a serious touch up through the midfield, losing contested possession by 10 and clearances by 15. Adelaide held just a single point advantage at three quarter time with momentum seemingly in the Power’s hands, but lifted in the final quarter to win by 15 points. Eddie Betts was outstanding in his 250th game, kicking five vital goals. Rory Sloane is now ineligible for the Brownlow Medal after accepting a one match ban due to a poorly timed spoil on Brad Ebert. Brodie Smith misses with concussion.
West Coast has lifted its output in the last two weeks, defeating top eight opposition in GWS and Hawthorn to stay in top four contention. The Eagles have now won eight of its past nine matches to be statistically the form team in the competition. West Coast gave Hawthorn a contested possession mauling, ending +45 in the category and also comprehensively winning the clearances. Adam Simpson was also able to resurrect his successful defensive structures, constantly restricting the Hawks ball movement. Unfortunately Nic Naitanui has torn his ACL in a massive blow for the club, leaving ruck duties in the hands of Scott Lycett and Jon Giles.
I’m looking forward to two inform teams battling it out with plenty to play for. Adelaide got the points at Domain Stadium earlier in the year and deserve favouritism. Although if the Eagles can restrict ball movement like it did against Hawthorn, it must be considered a chance. Nic Naitanui is obviously a massive loss.
ADELAIDE TO WIN BY 8 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
Home Team (Adelaide) Over 103.5 Total Points @ $1.88
GEELONG ($1.16) VS MELBOURNE ($5.50)
AT SIMONDS STADIUM, SATURDAY 27/08, 13:45
Line: Cats -32.5, Demons +32.5
Geelong produced a solid performance against Brisbane, but would have been disappointed with how its defensive structures were exposed during the second quarter. The Cats attempted to create space through the midfield and corridor to help make scoring easier, but were again easy to score against going the other way from a turnover. It lead to a higher set up and the problems were quickly solved, but the free movement of the first quarter dissipated. The Cats are still in the frame for a top two position and will have a greater indication of where it sits after the Friday night clash. Either way, a win a vital. Lachie Henderson is a massive out after requiring minor knee surgery, but Bartel, Menzel and Caddy all return.
Melbourne were on the verge of an unexpected finals inclusion after upset wins against Hawthorn and Port Adelaide, but couldn’t have timed its poorest effort of the season any worse. Whether pressure and expectation got too much for the young players or not, the Demons were destroyed by Patrick Cripps and Bryce Gibbs at the stoppages. 20 clearances between the two was only six away from Melbourne’s total count, as Paul Roos’ men finished with a -15 differential. This match will mark the end of Roos’ reign in charge of the club, so it will be interesting to see if the Dees can give him one last upset.
Melbourne won at Simonds Stadium last year, but the Cats have so much more to play for here.
GEELONG TO WIN BY 20 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
Geelong 1-39 @ $2.25
ESSENDON ($3.65) VS CARLTON ($1.30)
AT THE MCG, SATURDAY 27/08, 14:10
Line: Bombers +22.5, Blues -22.5
It has been a long season to be an Essendon player, coach or supporter, but the end is almost here and optimism burns brightly for 2017. The Bombers actually have an opportunity to rise itself off the bottom of the ladder with a win against Carlton, as long as Brisbane are beaten comfortably by St Kilda. Essendon aren’t too concerned whether it finishes with the No.1 draft pick or not, as the highest rated teenagers are difficult enough to split as it is. Avoiding a wooden spoon would be a great result for the club. Brendon Goddard is back for the final game.
Carlton produced the most unexpected victory of Round 22, defeating an underwhelming Melbourne at the MCG. Patrick Cripps and Bryce Gibbs were remarkable in tight and match defining. Cripps finished with 30 disposals, 19 contested possessions and 12 clearances, while Gibbs was dynamic with 33 disposals, 8 clearances and a goal. They spearheaded a dominant stoppage performance by Carlton, with a 41-26 clearance count surprising probably even Melbourne. It was a much needed victory for the club who finally ended a nine game losing streak and created some season ending positivity.
I think some would have been happy to back Essendon before the Round 22 results, but Carlton’s recent win has given it back comprehensive favouritism.
CARLTON TO WIN BY 18 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
Patrick Cripps to get 30 or more Disposals @ $1.91
SYDNEY ($1.08) VS RICHMOND ($8.00)
AT THE SCG, SATURDAY 27/08, 16:35
Line: Swans -48.5, Tigers +48.5
Sydney has climbed to the top of the ladder after a hard fought victory against North Melbourne and Hawthorn loss. It has seen the Swans shorten to $3.25 for the flag and the club is well set to win the minor premiership. Sydney was again lead by its dominant midfield, as Hannebery, Parker, Mitchell and Kennedy won large disposal numbers as usual. The Swans were given a scare early in the game when star Buddy Franklin left the ground with a hip complaint, but he played out the match and will take his position in the side this week. Jack comes back into the side, but Rising Star favourite Callum Mills is out with a calf injury.
Richmond produced a performance against St Kilda that more or less justified its season. It was beaten in most categories on the ground in a low intensity and near bruise free encounter. Stoppages, clearances, contested possession, tackles and score totals were all well below combined team averages, a sign that both clubs are counting down the days to the end of Round 23. Richmond have a few players fighting for their careers, so avoiding a blowout against the premiership favourite will be the ultimate goal.
Richmond has won the last three encounters against the Swans, including twice in Sydney. It is difficult to see that occurring again considering Sydney have so much to play for.
SYDNEY TO WIN BY 38 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
Most Disposals/Most Goals – Hannebery/Franklin @ $6.00
NORTH MELBOURNE ($2.70) VS GWS ($1.47)
AT ETIHAD STADIUM, SATURDAY 27/08, 19:25
North +15.5, Giants -15.5
North Melbourne has dropped a bombshell on the eve of Round 23, announcing Brent Harvey, Nick Dal Santo, Drew Petrie and Michael Firrito will not be offered new contracts for the 2017 season. To a degree you can understand the Dal Santo, Petrie and Firrito decisions, but new games record holder Harvey is showing no signs of slowing down. Harvey turns 39 in May next year, but his body appears in tip top condition and most importantly he is in outstanding form. In 21 games this season he is averaging 21 disposals and has kicked 34 goals, most recently coming off a 32 disposal, 3 goal game against Sydney. Tough decisions need to be made at the top level, but the timing and process seems bizarre. Shaun Higgins is an important inclusion, although Scott Thompson will miss with an adductor injury.
GWS are still well and truly in the hunt for a top four spot with a win against North Melbourne, but need to rely on at least one loss from clubs currently above it. A 92 point win against Fremantle saw the Giant’s percentage lift to 142.5% and pass Adelaide, giving itself every opportunity to bolt up the ladder should a top four side have a surprise loss. If all those clubs win and the Giants secure four points, it will play North Melbourne for a second consecutive week, this time at Spotless Stadium.
How will the Kangaroo’s harsh list management decisions affect the playing group? There are sure to be some disappointed boys, but they must get on with the job and finish with pride.
GWS TO WIN BY 6 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
North Melbourne +15.5 Line @ $1.92
GOLD COAST ($2.95) VS PORT ADELAIDE ($1.40)
AT METRICON STADIUM, SATURDAY 27/08, 19:25
Line: Suns +21.5, Port -21.5
Gold Coast have fallen back into the bottom four after a terrible first half against Collingwood. The Suns could only manage one goal up to the main break as Collingwood piled on 12 to lead by 68 points. Gold Coast struggled to get the ball back once the Pies gained control all night, resulting in a 322-453 disposal mismatch. The competitive effort has dissipated over its week and a half stay in Melbourne, a decision Rodney Eade might now regret. A more combative performance to finish the season will win back some respect from an overall poor season.
You can’t knock the passionate and competitive effort Port Adelaide put in against Adelaide during the Showdown on Saturday night. The Power were hell bent on winning and left everything out on the ground. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to get the points, but it again proved what this list is capable of. Port were clinical at the stoppages in particular, creating a +15 clearance and +10 contested possession differential. What does the offseason hold for the Power? List management decisions will determine exactly where the club sees itself coming into 2017.
It is difficult to imagine Port Adelaide bringing the same intensity as Saturday night over to Metricon Stadium, but it still should be too strong for a confidence sapped Suns line up.
PORT ADELAIDE TO WIN BY 36 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
Port Adelaide -21.5 Line @ $1.92
ST KILDA ($1.05) VS BRISBANE ($10.00)
AT ETIHAD STADIUM, SUNDAY 28/08, 13:10
Line: Saints -53.5, Lions +53.5
St Kilda still are mathematically a chance to make finals, but will need to break records convincingly to ensure it makes up the required 300 or so points between it and North Melbourne. While getting so close to a finals berth would be disappointing, the Saints season has been an enormous positive on a whole. I doubt even the most biased St Kilda supporter would have imagined winning 12 games in 2016, a number it will reach with a victory against Brisbane. The senior players have produced great footy all year, but the development of many young players is the highlight for the club. 2017 is genuinely filled with optimism.
Brisbane produced some good moments against Geelong, particularly in the second quarter, but were haunted by concentration lulls early and late. The Lions genuinely looked dangerous at times after a fast intercept or Geelong turnover, but just can’t keep the opposition to low enough scores. If the Lions concede 162 points or more against St Kilda this week, it will jump into the top ten of highest points conceded in a season. It won’t reach the Saint’s 3052 points conceded in 1982, but in an era dominated by effective defensive structures, it is an extremely poor return.
Expect St Kilda to finish the season off with a blast and record a massive victory.
ST KILDA TO WIN BY 71 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
Home Team (St Kilda) Over 128.5 Points @ $1.89
HAWTHORN ($1.21) VS COLLINGWOOD ($4.45)
AT THE MCG, SUNDAY 28/08, 15:20
Line: Hawks -27.5, Pies +27.5
A loss to West Coast has made Hawthorn’s situation a lot tighter than it would have preferred. After being a game clear on top of the ladder, the Hawks have free fallen to fourth and risk slipping outside the double chance zone with a loss to Collingwood. Worst case scenario will see it fall to seventh and face GWS or West Coast away in an elimination final. That is a situation Alastair Clarkson and his men will want to completely avoid after losses to both clubs in 2016. The contested possession count continues to be a problem for Hawthorn, while West Coast proved that the reigning premier can be stagnated. There is plenty to work on for the Hawks. The knee injury to Jonathon Ceglar puts a large workload onto Ben McEvoy.
Collingwood blew the hapless Suns away in the first half on Saturday night, eventually running away to a 71 point win. The Pies weren’t anywhere near as dynamic after the main break, but didn’t need to be with minimal to play for and the win in hand. Nathan Buckley declared on radio during the weekend that a 2017 finals appearance is the minimum expectation for his side or he will face job uncertainty. I’m sure that interview will be replayed and quoted countless times over the next 12 months.
Hawthorn generally respond to adversity with a performance of substance, so I certainly won’t be backing against it on this occasion. The Hawks have won the last eight encounters.
HAWTHORN TO WIN BY 33 POINTS
No Bet to Consider
FREMANTLE ($3.55) VS WESTERN BULLDOGS ($1.30)
AT DOMAIN STADIUM, SUNDAY 28/08, 16:40
Line: Dockers +19.5, Dogs -19.5
To say that Fremantle’s past month has been a disaster would be an understatement, losing its past four matches by an average of 75 points. The Dockers are on the brink of losing its final nine matches of the year and despite any result, will be pleased that the 2016 season comes to a close on Sunday. The supporters have one final moment to look forward to though, as club champion Matthew Pavlich will take to the field for the final time. You would like to think the players will bring their best for the former captain, but that poor form might to too much to turn even into a competitive effort. I can’t remember a group of mature players so out for touch, despite the obvious injury problems. Aaron Sandilands gets an opportunity to take part in Pav’s final game.
The Western Bulldogs got over the line against Essendon with minimal fuss, running away to a 40 point victory. The Dogs are still in the hunt for a sneaky top four position, but need all of Hawthorn, GWS and West Coast to lose for that to be a possibility. Luke Beveridge will be desperate for at least one to fail, meaning his side is in prime position for a home elimination final. Jake Stringer took his omission to the VFL on the chin and performed solidly, but it wasn’t enough to see him back in the side.
The Western Bulldogs haven’t defeated Fremantle at Domain Stadium since 2009, but shouldn’t have any dramas this time around based on current trends. The line looks too sentimental toward Fremantle.
WESTERN BULLDOGS TO WIN BY 45 POINTS
Bet to Consider:
Western Bulldogs -18.5 Line @ $1.92